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Operation Educate the Educators: Recognizing and Supporting our Military-Connected Students

John King: Good morning. Thanks so much for the
warm introduction. It’s a pleasure to
be with all of you. I want to recognize at the
start the tireless advocacy of Dr. Keller, the president
of the Military Child Education Coalition, and the
leadership of Dr. Ron Astor, the WOOD professor at the
School of Behavioral Health at USC for helping to bring
to light the challenges that many of our
military-connected children face. As I thought about today,
I know this initiative was partly launched because of a
student who lost her father while he served
in the military, and the fact that
despite her loss, her teachers didn’t about
that impact on her family, what had happened
in her family, until she started crying
during a Christmas ceremony, and that story stuck with me
particularly because I lost both my parents when I was a
kid — my mom when I was eight, my dad when I was 12
— and moved around between family members and schools,
and I have a particular sympathy for the challenges
that kids face in school when they are facing crises
outside of school in their family or facing difficulty
or moving between schools, and so for me this is a
deeply personal question about how we ensure that all
of our schools support our students, not just
academically but support their socioemotional needs
to make sure that they have the opportunity to thrive. That issue of compassion and
an unwavering focus on the needs of students is
something that I think has to be at the forefront for
every principal, every teacher in our country
as we think about how to advance education as a
country. For many of our
military-connected children, they are facing many
stresses, whether it is frequent moves
between schools, and we know that on average
military children will attend six to nine different
schools, and we know there are many
children who are moving – making multiple moves during
a single school year. We know the challenge that
brings for students as they have to change friends and
classes and learn new routines, and we know many
children are dealing with family members who are
deployed and away from the family and the challenges
that that brings at home. We know that many children
are in class thinking about their parent, who is
somewhere giving service, risking his or her life on
behalf of the country and thinking about that parent
and worrying about their safety, and those are
challenges. We’ve got to ensure our
teachers and principals are ready to support our
students as they face — and we’ve got to make sure our
schools have the school counselling and the mental
health services and the wraparound services that our
students need. We also know that teachers
in their preparation — I’m so pleased that we have
teacher preparation programs in the room. Teachers in their
preparation need to begin to think about how they might
meet those challenges that their students may face and
how they might best support their students. In preparing for today, I
had a conversation with a number of educators,
including educators locally, who are working with
military-connected families, and couple of the stories
stood out to me in particular. One was a story shared by
the principal of the Leckie Elementary School who I see
in the back — Atasha James, and she shared a story about
a student who had moved — a young student who had moved
so many times — in fact, she’d moved 18 times in the
last four years — that she explained to her principal
that she knew that if she didn’t unpack right away —
if she didn’t unpack in the first two months, she would
never unpack, and so when you think about
what it is for a kid to be thinking that way about how
frequently she’s changing schools, you can understand
the challenges, and then the principal
described — Ms. James described watching how the
student was reluctant in some ways to create
friendships and relationships at school,
knowing that there would soon be another transition. But she talked about the
importance that Leckie would assure its many
military-connected children of creating a warm and
supportive culture that acknowledges that mobility
but says, “We’re a family here, and
you’re a part of our family, and you may move away, but
you’re a part of our family. You’ll always be a part of
our family, ” and works to overcome
those challenges. So, I’m pleased that
Ms. James was able to join us, and I appreciate her
sharing that powerful story. Another teacher who was part
of that conversation, Danielle Massey (spelled
phonetically), who’s also a military spouse
and a military mom, talked about a student that
she had, Felix, who was always getting in
trouble, and she wasn’t quite sure
why he was always getting in trouble. He’s sort of the class
clown, and he was always getting in
trouble, and she decided she was
going to intervene with Felix and kind of get him
back on track, and she worked very
intensively with him and got him back on track. And then she went to a
welcome home ceremony, as she often did, and saw
Felix there, and she watched Felix run to
his father and then bring Felix’s father over to meet
her, and Felix explained to her
— to his father how Danielle had made this huge
difference for him, and he really wanted him to
know Ms. Massey, and then she found out that
Felix had been really the man of the house for his
family, was supporting his mom while
his dad was away as well as younger sisters, and that
was a factor in what was driving his behavior. And, you know, for her, it
was a powerful realization of just the impact that she
was able to have as a teacher just by sticking
with him through those challenges, right, and
helping him to manage his emotions, and, again, this
is something that’s so critical as we think about
teacher preparation and principal preparation. How do we create schools and
classrooms that feel like family? That made all the difference
for me. After my parents passed, my
life could have gone in a lot of different directions. Folks could have said,
“Here’s an African American-Latino male student
going to New York City Public School with a family
in crisis. What chance does he have?” But they didn’t. Right, they chose to create
an environment that was supportive, that was
interesting, that was engaging,
that was challenging. Teachers really became
a family for me, and it’s so important that
our teachers and principals think about how they support
military-connected children as being about building a
family and building a culture of support, and so
that’s really what this work is about, and it builds
powerfully, I think, on a number of commitments
that have driven the work and the administration. We are focused on equity. We are focused on improving
academic outcomes for all students. That includes our
military-connected children, and to improve outcomes, we
need schools that function like families. We’ve been focused
throughout on trying to make sure that our schools pay
particular attention to the challenges that
military-connected children may face. In 2013, the department
issued a “Dear Colleague” letter focused on highly
mobile children, including military-connected
children, making sure that districts
and states understand their responsibility to manage
those transitions. Well — right, often when
you have highly mobile students or students with
disabilities, if we aren’t able to ensure
that records move quickly, that evaluations
take place quickly, that teachers are quickly
oriented to the students’ needs, we lose
valuable time, and the thrust of the “Dear
Colleague” letter was to focus on the kinds of
supports and attention that schools need to pay when
kids are experiencing those kinds of transitions. Now, we have encouraged our
chief state school officers to support the interstate
compact on educational opportunity for military
children, again, because we know we’ve got to
manage through those transitions that may come
moving between states with different requirements
around graduation or credits, for example. We’ve worked closely with
the Department of Defense on a number of joint
initiatives, including a focus on
STEM education. The White House science
fair is later today. I hope some of you will be
able to stop by that. STEM education — hugely
important to the future of our country, both our
economy and our democracy, and we focus in our
partnership with the Department of Defense on
STEM education. We’ve had partnerships
around computer science education, which is
critical, and as you heard on the
panel just now, there is a new set of
opportunities with passage of the Every Student
Succeeds Act, a bipartisan federal
education law that builds on the history of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was
first adopted in 1965 as a civil rights law, and as we
move forward with the Every Student Succeeds Act
implementation, there’s an opportunity to
focus specifically on data, on the performance and needs
of our military-connected children. It is critically important
that all of us in this room work together to support our
state leaders and our district leaders in making
the transition. It is not enough just to
have a new category and a new reporting requirement. All right, that is necessary
but not sufficient for changes in the opportunities
and supports that are available to students, so as
we work to implement ESSA, we’ve got, again, stay
focused on what is the training, what is the
support that folks need to help students who are — who
are moving frequently, to help students who are
dealing with having a parent away, to help students who
are dealing with sometimes — very sadly — to loss in
their family, and how do we — how do we
ensure that educators have not only the preparation but
the ongoing professional development that they need
to do that work so that when we see in a given school
military-connected children are not doing as well or not
getting the same opportunities, we then have
the ability to act on that information, and so that
partnership between all of us in this room and states
and districts will continue to be critical. I want to — now, before
introducing Dr. Biden just to tell you personally how
important I think convenings like this are. It’s just so important for
folks to come together and share their strategies,
their successes, and their struggles. This is a hard endeavor to
make sure that our schools embrace all — every one of
our children and lift up — lift them up and ensure
their success, and it’s powerful to have a
convening of people who are committed to that work every
day and open to continuously asking, “How do we do more? How do we get better? How do we serve our students
better? How do we support our
families better? How do we ensure that
parents — particularly a parent who may have a
partner who’s away on a deployment — how do we
support our parents as effectively as possible?” So, thank you so much for
being here and being a part of this conversation. In many ways, Dr. Biden
needs no introduction. She is an outstanding
educational leader. She has been a leader
throughout the administration on issues of
K-12 education, on issues of higher
education. She is a military mom. She is an educator herself,
and she is really someone I deeply admired before coming
to the administration and proud to get to know and
proud to introduce. Dr. Biden. (applause) Jill Biden: Okay, well,
good morning, everybody. Multiple Speakers: Good
morning. Jill Biden: It’s great to
see all of you here at the — at the White House today,
and there’s really so many familiar faces of those
who’ve been working with Operation Educate the
Educators from the very beginning, actually, and, of
course, it’s nice for me to see new
faces here as well, and I’d like to start by
thanking Secretary King for your wonderful — where did
— oh, there he goes — (laughter) — for your wonderful
introduction, and as a former teacher and
the son of educators, you’ve dedicated your entire
life to ensuring all students and teachers have
the tools and resources that they need to succeed, and
since you were confirmed just a month ago — I mean,
you’ve everywhere on behalf of our kids, so thank you
very much. And I’d also like to
introduce our senior spouses who are with us here today,
and if they’d just raise their hands — so, we have
— from the National Guard, that was — my son was
Delaware Army National Guard, we have Sally Lengle
(spelled phonetically), if you’ll raise your hand,
and we also Blair Brush (spelled phonetically) with
us. Blair? Blair and I travelled
together to the Invictus Games, where the Wounded
Warriors had all kinds of contests, and we had — we
had a lot of fun in London, didn’t we? Prince Harry was pretty
spectacular. (laughter) And then from the Army we
have Holly Daley (spelled phonetically), and she
travelled with me recently to Fort Riley in Kansas, and
so we went to schools and met with the military
spouses and spouses of deployed soldiers, and
anyway, it was really great, and we took along Natalie
Morales. We let her tag
along with us, so thanks for being here
today, all of you. I’d also like to thank
Dr. Mary Keller and everyone at the — at MCEC, Military
Child Education Coalition. Thank you for your
tremendous, tremendous friendship and
leadership and support. You know, we couldn’t do
this without you, and I also wanted to thank
Ron Astor behind — right next to her, from the
University of Southern California. We saw firsthand in 2012 the
incredible work you’re doing at USC, and we wouldn’t be
here today without you, either, so thanks, Ron. And finally, thank you to
the American Association of Colleges for Teachers
Education as well as the original signatories of
Operation Educate the Educators for being here
today and for your continued efforts to encourage teacher
colleges to raise awareness about military-connected
children on your campuses. So, as immersed as I’ve been
in this for the last couple years, it was so interesting
for me to be here today to hear some new ideas that I
— or things that I hadn’t thought of, and really I
loved Rich, who talked about being
positive, like we always think about
concentrating on, you know, kids who have difficulties
or special needs or how can we help these kids, and so
it’s nice that we’re approaching it — or
starting to think about approaching it from the
positive angle. I think that’s so important
that we don’t forget that, and I learned at — I
learned some of the panel members say how important
research is, which is — I truly believe
that, so I hope the members of
AERA are listening to that because we really do need —
you know, we need that basis, and we
need that foundation, and then it — I had to
laugh when I went to the back room because as an
English teacher, you know, I love language, and so when
Ann was talking about her ordinary magic, I wrote it
down, Anne, on my pad. I thought, “I have to tell
Ann. Her next book has to be
called ‘Ordinary Magic, ‘” and then I walked back
into the room, and I see you left me your
book, and it’s called “Ordinary
Magic,” so believe me, I was listening, and so
anyway. Five years ago this month,
the First Lady Michelle Obama and I started our
Joining Forces Initiative, and it was our mission to
give all Americans the opportunity to step up,
really, and show their support for
military families, and as a lifelong educator
myself and a military mom, of course, this was very
personal to me, and in this role, you know,
I’ve been privileged, really, to share — to shine
a light on thousands of families and children who
have taken on these challenging roles, you know,
without complaint, really, and you know this as people
in the military, and they are my everyday
heroes who often want really no acknowledgement. So, one of the best parts of
my role as Second Lady is spending time with military
families, and I’ve traveled, you know, the entire world
and visited bases across this country and the globe,
and I’m always inspired by their strength and
their resilience, and you’ve heard that word
being brought up many times today, and I’ve met with
teachers all around the world — all around this
nation — who are meeting the challenges in really
creative ways, and it’s been so impressive,
and I’ve been so proud to be a teacher. You know, I met a principal
from San Diego — and Ron, you probably remember this
— who worked with her staff to create transition rooms
that offered military families a one-stop-shop
resource center. I met with teachers in
Illinois who are using writing and art therapy to
help National Guard kids with deployed parents, you
know, helping them express their
anxiety and their fear, and I met a teacher in
Georgia who arranges parent-teacher conferences
via Skype. You know, thank God for
technology so that a deployed parent in
Afghanistan can participate in that parent-teacher
conference. It’s just so important, and
then last week I had the opportunity to travel to
Fort Riley, to an Army base in Kansas,
which is home to the First Infantry Division, and on
that base there are more than 8,000
military children, and the school population at
that Fort Riley elementary school is 98 percent
military connect, so you can see how
important this is. I visited their classrooms,
and I met some pretty incredible teachers,
student teachers, parents, and students, and
immediately I saw once again the resilient nature not
just of the students but of the entire community that
really came out to support them, but instead of tell
you about what I saw at Fort — at Fort Riley, let me
show the video. (Video playing) Female Speaker: Military
children are normal people who face abnormal
circumstances. Teachers are always
supportive, but they don’t always
understand the circumstances that you’re in or what
you’re going through, but when you come to a
place like this, they have experienced this
type of situation before, and they know how to provide
the best support for you and to get to talk to you
on a regular basis. Male Speaker: At the drop of
a hat, you can say, “Hey, I’m going here for
two weeks,” or, “I’m going to be in the
field for a month.” Female Speaker: We know
being a middle schooler is hard, but being a middle
schooler of a military child is a little bit harder
because of the moves, and we always want to make
sure that they’re being successful. That’s our ultimate goal. Male Speaker: I came here
from Alabama just a couple years ago, and my dad’s a
soldier in the military. The staff that works here,
they understand what you’re going through and that you
might be having problems with family, moving
around, and stuff, and then the programs that
they help you with keeping your grades up. They help you catch up with
the curriculum. Male Speaker: The big thing,
I think for me personally, is, you know, this focus on
building relationships with your students because we’ve
talked about how the outside world impacts students’
lives in the school. The educators’ program is
important because not only does it help teachers
connect with military-connected kids, but
it’s going to help them connect with all kids. Female Speaker: I think it’s
understanding that someone starts having a bad day, and
we’re going to let them deal with their emotions instead
of just expecting them to sit there and be quiet. You still have behavior
standards. You still have academic
standards, but there’s a bit more
compassion or understanding or maybe adapting. Female Speaker: All the
people here are really supportive, especially
if a parent is deployed, and when I come
here, you know, I feel sort of at home. It’s obviously hard to
adjust when I move places, but at school it — there
wasn’t as much pressure. People just sort of, you
know, accepted you, and you fit in. (applause) Jill Biden: One of the
students I met that day told me that her family moved to
Fort Riley in the middle of the school year, and so she
missed the auditions for the school play, but because her
teacher knew how difficult the transitions were and how
starting over — how difficult it can be, they
gave her the opportunity to be part of it, and that
doesn’t always happen for military kids, and by the
way, she got the lead. (laughter) So, Fort Riley represents
what I hope all schools do for our military families. You know, a
community-wide effort, one in which Kansas State
University has invested heavily in educating their
teachers to better serve the needs of military students,
and I’d like to take just a minute to thank Dean Dev
Mercer. I can — she’s out here —
oh, there you are — from Kansas
State University to — for being here today and
facilitating last week’s discussion with the KSU
students — student teachers at Fort Riley middle school,
so thank you. You know, the work that you
are doing and that your student teachers are doing
is so important in the classroom, so thank you. You know, it’s just what I
envisioned, and — really, it really meant so much to
me because I could see how much it meant to the
families and to the kids because we heard it
first-hand, so this is — it was just
perfect, so thanks. So, not only does it make a
difference in the life of each and every student, but
as you can imagine, it means so much to our
service members when members of the community reach out
to support military families during deployments. However, not every public
school in the military is in a military community, and
when — where nearly half of all the student population
is military connected. Not every teacher, faculty
member, and administrator lives the
same life as military families do, day in and day
out, and in some cases, not all public school —
public schools and teachers have been afforded the
opportunity and the resources that they — that
they need to truly understand how to recognize
and support the needs of these unique and inspiring
students. That’s why we launched
Operation Educate the Educators in 2011 to
encourage teaching colleges to adopt guiding principles
to better prepare educators to meet the needs of
military-connected students in the classroom, and that’s
why we’re here today. Most of the original — the
100 original signatory colleges are with us today
to share the best research and ideas in the field to
help our military-connected children, to raise awareness
about, you know, what’s working, what’s not
working, and to chart a course
forward on what more we can do to support and leverage
the unique needs of our military-connected children. This morning, you heard from
leading institutions on best practices, curriculum,
scientific and empirical evidence, the need to
evaluate the entire lifecycle, and the changes
in experience at all stages. You’ve also learned about
fostering resiliency — there’s that word again —
the need for deeper data, the importance of
recognizing the diversity of the military-connected
family, and how legislatively
we can support our military-connected kids. Everyone here today has
stepped up to make a real difference, but going
forward we have to challenge ourselves to do even more. There’s much more that can
be done to raise awareness for teacher training as well
as reaching those teachers who are already in
the classroom. I believe that we have to
reach out to other professionals that encounter
these students on a daily basis, from counsellors
to the PTA, which is why I was so
thrilled that many of you here are these new
stakeholders in these — in this organization. So, thank you
for being here. I hope you all will commit
to including the military child in your curriculum,
that you will reach out to your college colleagues at
other teacher colleges and tell them about, you know,
what you learned here today, and ask them to make the
same commitment that you have made. Leverage your understanding
to push for further research at your schools. We know there’s a need
for more data for military-connected kids. We also know that the
results of this data can have far-reaching
implications into what is needed to support the
resiliency and adaptability of military children
across this nation. For those of you not
associated with an educational institution,
please think through about how you personally, your
organization, whatever that is, can raise
awareness about the unique needs of military-connected
children. I want you to know as a
military mom myself and as an educator, your efforts
are so appreciated. The smallest acts of
kindness can make more of a difference in the lives of
so many military students and their families, much
more than you might ever realize. You got into education
because you feel you can make a difference in
the lives of students. Military students will go
unnoticed unless you step up to help. It’s so simple: a word,
an act, a deed. You have the power to
change to someone’s life. God bless our troops. Thank you. (applause)

Reynold King

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